Bitter pills: Irene Adams vows to fight on against drug pushers

despite warnings to 'quit meddling'.

WHEN Irene Adams talks about her impulsive stand against narcotics

overlords and their sodality of bullies it is as if the pages of a novel

are being turned. Just for a moment you may imagine you are sitting not

in Paisley but close to the tortured heart of Sicily, listening to a

courageous widow nail her anger on the Mafia.

In Italy, of course, Adams would be elevated to living sainthood by

now, a distinction that would place her in even greater danger from

those long-practised in unseen vengeance with precision.

She tilts her head in laughter at the comparison but there are enough

references there for her to say that what is urgently needed in this

country is a sophisticated Witness Protection scheme. By this she means

that significant police informers should feel confident that they can be

spirited away from the very real threat of vendettas to live in secure

houses where their new identities will never be breached.

This would depend on flexible, confidential liaison between police

forces and housing authorities throughout the country, but in purging

its drugs menace America is now proving such a service is possible. And

here Northern Ireland's troubles also provided the Army and the RUC with

effective experience in facilitating secret escape to elsewhere for

those brave enough to spy on the netherworld of terrorism.

But has intimidation from drug peddlers reached such a fearsome pitch

in Britain that informants require this kind of cast-iron vanishing

service? Adams, whose Paisley North constituency contains the original

temazepam township of Ferguslie Park, has no doubt that fear of reprisal

can carry as damaging consequences for society as the raw needlework of

drug-abuse itself.

She believes Clare Short's recent off-the-cuff misfortune in mooting

debate on the legalisation of certain drugs was blown up out of all

proportion. Adams herself would support the need for frank and serious

discussion if only to alert the rest of us to the enormity of the

problem. From her vantage point the outlook is terrifying, but most

people, she says, simply close their eyes to the horror which is both

funding and destroying so many corners of our culture.

''People saw this campaign was in earnest when we set out to get

temazepam capsules banned. Now we have achieved this, and quite a lot of

folk are coming forward with information, but out there there are still

great numbers of desperately scared individuals who feel at too great a

risk to help.''

Better than most Irene Adams understands the perils because they are

also stacked against her door. Anonymity's curse arrives by telephone,

or by the crudest letter, but threats have also reached her children and

in-laws, the over-aggressive shove in crowded places being followed by

muffled warnings that Adams should quit her ''meddling for everybody's


Her anti-drugs crusade grew from no planned strategy but was a

spontaneous response to the engulfing worries of her constituents.

''This is maybe foolhardy but I never worried about the consequences for

me, although the threats do scare me for my family. However, it would

have been very wrong not to have acted on other people's behalf.''

Her house and movements are now carefully monitored by the police and

she and her three children keep in constant touch through contact

telephone numbers. But long before this the Adams' household learned to

be secure beyond the norm when Allen, her late husband and politician

was one of the Labour Whips for Northern Ireland.

''Every day we had to be vigilant about anything suspicious. That also

meant I had to drive the kids to school each time by a varied route. So,

in a way, none of this now is unexpected or unfamiliar, and I must say

the police are excellently supportive.''

Appalled at the rising number of amputations and deaths caused by

injecting jellies (the now prohibited temazepam capsules), Adams

launched her campaign early this year. A spate of shootings, death

threats and gang wrangles intensified her commitment last spring.

There were also her allegations that FCB Enterprise Security Ltd, a

community business funded by Renfrew District Council, Strathclyde

Regional Council and the Scottish Office, and run by Labour Party

members, was being used as a front for money-laundering. Vocal attack

and counter-attack have marked the rhythm of events since then.

Meanwhile, Strathclyde Police, the Scottish Office and Renfrew District

Council each have the matter under investigation.

At the same time, but for separate reasons, local Labour Party

activity has been effectively suspended in the constituencies of Renfrew

West and Inverclyde, Paisley North and Paisley South following

accusations of manipulation. The findings of the national party's own

internal inquiry are expected in a matter of weeks.

Did all this fire and spittle, the seething denunciations, prime Adams

for the minor stroke which befell her during the first night of her New

York holiday last August? Now fully recovered, she reflects that stress

was undoubtedly a factor, but the whole experience was made more

traumatic because it occurred precisely five years to the day that her

husband collapsed with a brain haemorrhage during a family holiday in

Spain. Allen Adams died three weeks later.

But that night last summer, in her bedroom at the Helmsley Hotel on

East 58th, she first thought she was suffering from the New York

heatwave, like everybody else. The temperature was over 100 degrees, she

was in jet-lag and, with her daughter, she had been shopping and

strolling by Central Park.

At 4am the symptoms of what doctors called a transitory ischaemic

attack began with the loss of power in her left hand. ''My daughter

Barbara was staying in the same room, and I woke her up and said: 'I

don't want to alarm you but I think I might be having a small stroke'.

Well, naturally she leapt out of bed. But for some reason I was

perfectly calm. I remember saying: 'If it is a stroke then it's a real

pain in the neck because it probably means the end of the holiday'.''

Later in the Roosevelt Hospital her condition worsened, then

stabilised. But her recurring thought was how the children would cope

''if this thing turns out to be as bad as it might''. Had she left them

well prepared? ''That past family tragedy had taught me that every one

of us is more vulnerable than we believe, but I just felt the family

were too young -- Barbara, 23, Kirsty, 21, and Allen, just 17 -- to go

through all that pain so soon again.''

Speedy, comprehensive insurance took care of the bills which totalled

around $10,000, but Adams has nothing but praise for the New York

treatment, the expertise immediately on hand, the hotel's efficiency and

concern, and the cab driver's swift, attentive manoeuvres in racing her

to the Roosevelt.

Now the only obvious difference in her appearance is the absence of

cigarettes, but Adams is determined also to resume her old regime of

taking one hour out from Commons'time each day, to walk in as much fresh

air as is possible around the Palaces of Westminster.

''When I was recovering and reflecting on things I suddenly realised

that I had left that routine slip for more than a year simply because of

the volume of work. The daft hours we put in -- often from 9am to 11pm

-- make politicians clear candidates for this sort of crisis.''

Although she downplays the hassles, Adams needs resourceful and

phlegmatic nature to be in good fettle because now there is another

problem round the corner. She prefers to see it as a niggling irritation

but over the past few months there have been persistent rumours that her

candidacy for the next General Election may well be challenged. Ruefully

she says it has been quite a year.

''What the boundary changes have meant in the Renfrewshire area is

that Linwood has come out of Renfrew West and Inverclyde and into

Paisley North, but it only makes up 15% of my constituency. The rest

remains my original seat. So that stuff about a challenge is really only


''Under party rules, unless 30% of your seat moves to another

constituency, you have no automatic right to challenge. In other words,

it's just not on to move in because you think the new arrangement is a

better seat.''

Allegations of smear tactics to oust certain party members, and

tip-offs about suspected orchestrated moves to place key Labour

activists in powerful positions at Ferguslie . . . this is also the kind

of fuming chatter which seems to boil up around Paisley North, alleged

intimidation exacerbating argument.

''All I can say is that I've had great support from party officials

and right from the top,'' says Adams. ''If I was facing a real political

challenge then I would take the situation much more seriously. But since

that day I was selected, just over five years ago, the constituency has

never called me to account, and last May it issued a statement saying it

was 100% behind me in the drugs war.''

What does concern her, though, is the bad light cast on the local

party by so much ugly truculence. Adams insists the trouble is being

stirred by only a few individuals who ''for one reason or another have

sought to further their own agendas''.

If the candidacy were snatched from her in a political contest then,

she maintains, she would come to terms with that because: ''That's the

game we're in''. But she adds that she has never operated in order to

build up a personal power bloc. ''I believe that is very, very wrong.

I'm not Irene Adams MP because I'm Irene Adams, but because I'm the

Labour candidate, and I'll never forget that.''

She inherited her husband's seat after his death, at first reluctant

to stand but then persuaded by general approval and the fact that she

had been a member of the Labour Party since the age of 16.

''I had a very good marriage, which I suppose is unusual today, but I

never expected it to end as quickly as that. When I stood for Parliament

I know now that I was still in shock, running on adrenalin, running as

hard as I could to get away from the grief.

''When bereavement happens it is like being hit by a sledgehammer

every morning, but it is true that the terrible pain lessens. You never

get over the trauma but there comes a point when the flashes of memory

change from being sad to being happy.'' Her husband, Adams believes,

would be pleased by the doggedness of her fight.

It is not the squalid street-pusher of drugs whom she is after but

those figures of respectability who, with great stealth, head national

chains of command and are adept at ensuring the casual bystander notices

nothing. Adams is convinced that the bulk of jellies reached communities

not through prescription scams, although they were certainly part of it,

but because of a breakdown in the pharmaceutical network.

Anyone, she says, can register as a pharmaceutical wholesaler. That

done, you then go along to the Department of Trade and Industry, and

request a licence, saying that you have an export order for 5,00,000

temazepam capsules. Equipped with this you move to a manufacturer where

you buy that 5,000,000 at, say, 3p per capsule. Only you never do export

them. ''In fact, we know that on paper Britain exports more temazepam

than it manufactures.''

From now on, licences will be much more heavily policed but Adams

won't rest until all licences are totally monitored.

So, for years what was meant for abroad has been ending up in the

backstreets of home, but not at 3p a time. Instead, the jellies price

would be nearer #4 a capsule. ''To keep that tidy profit in your pocket

you would want to shut up someone like me very quickly.''

But Irene Adams has already proved she can't be easily hushed -- not

by threats, not by illness, not by personal tragedy or cheap onslaughts

on her Commons eligibility. Last time, she may have partly won her seat

on a sympathy vote for the widow, but if she does hold on to it, the

reason now will be conspicuous merit. And then she may come to feel the

healing process is very near complete.